The Nets appeared close to trading Brook Lopez at least two times before the February deadline, but since coach Lionel Hollins put him back in the starting lineup on March 8th, he’s been sizzling, and the Nets have gone 11-6. He’s averaged 21.9 points and 9.5 rebounds in 33.8 minutes per game during that stretch, helping carry the Nets into position for a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. Those numbers would be career highs if extrapolated over an entire season, and his rebounding is particularly encouraging for a 7-footer who’s somehow managed only 8.1 boards per 36 minutes for his career. He’s put up 26.2 PPG on 61% shooting in his last 11 games, becoming the only NBA player to do that over any 11-game stretch this season, as Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders points out (Twitter link).
All of this is cast against the backdrop of a crucial decision for Lopez and for the Nets. The 27-year-old has a player option worth more than $16.744MM that, if he were to opt in, would leave Brooklyn with seven players with guaranteed salaries that add up to only about $6MM shy of the projected $81MM luxury tax line for next season. If he opts out, the Nets still wouldn’t have the ability to open significant cap room to replace him, and Brooklyn would be liable to lose the catalyst for its turnaround this season with nothing to show for it.
The stakes are perhaps even more consequential for Lopez. He played in all 82 games his first three seasons in the league, but a broken foot that required three surgeries in three years and forced him to 134 missed games during that span left him with a reputation as damaged goods. He’s started only 39 games this season after playing in only 17 last season, and there’s no telling if his revival and return to health are but short-lived phenomena.
Lopez said last month that he hadn’t given thought to the option, though executives around the league seem to have had it on the minds for some time. Grantland’s Zach Lowe heard in December that most of those execs thought he would opt in. Today, Lowe wrote that the opposite is now true, which echoes what Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck had heard in December, when he reported that many execs expected him to opt in.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports said last week that he’s heard estimates that Lopez will draw offers with annual salaries of $13-14MM if he hits free agency this summer. Those figures would give him less next season than he would make on his option, but free agency would likely give him the chance to lock in those salaries on a long-term deal that would ensure him of far more money than the option would. Lopez, a Wasserman Media Group client, also must consider the rising salary cap for 2016/17, and the rising maximum salaries that will come with it. Lopez’s existing deal is a maximum-salary arrangement, and if he opts in and continues playing the way he has the past month, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to see him land another max deal in the summer of 2016.
So, let us know what you would tell Lopez to do if you were one of his agents. Should he opt in, take a higher salary than it seems he would otherwise see for 2015/16 and the risk of injury and regression that comes with it, or opt out and cash in while he’s hot, even if it means missing out on a better payday next year? Use the comments section if you’d like to give him more specific advise.